April 25, 2007  ·  Lessig

(UPDATED: New names and blog posts added.)

While many rightly and fairly struggle over genuinely difficult copyright questions, it has been the strategy of some of us to push for solutions to obvious problems first. The place of copyright in political debate is one such obvious problem. Technology has exploded the opportunity for people to comment upon, and spread political speech. Democracy is all about encouraging citizens to participate in that debate. And all of us, whether Democrats or Republicans, should push to remove unnecessary burdens to that participation.

Unfortunately, however, the uncertainty about the scope of copyright regulation is increasingly one such burden on Internet political speech. This next political cycle will see an explosion of citizen generated political content. Some of that speech will be crafted from clips taken from the Presidential debates. Some of that will be fantastically valuable and important. Yet as the law is right now, it is extremely difficult for an ordinary citizen to understand the boundaries of “fair use,” or the limits to copyright law. It is likewise difficult for companies such as YouTube, or Blip.tv. Indeed, it is even difficult for a skilled practitioner. That uncertainty, if not checked, could produce a cloud over much of this political speech, as sites and universities don’t know how much is too much. It will certainly create a temptation by some politicians to invoke copyright law to block particularly effective speech critical of them.

Some friends (old and new) and I are therefore calling upon both major political parties to make this problem go away. Not by changing the law, or by supporting some expensive and time consuming litigation. But instead, by simply promising to require of any network broadcasting Presidential debates (at least) that they license the debates freely after they are initially broadcast — either by putting the debates into the public domain, or by permitting anyone to use or remix the contents of those debates, for any reason whatsoever, so long as there is attribution back to any purported copyright holder. (CC-BY)

I am confident that I won’t like much of what this freedom will engender. But if that were a legitimate reason to regulate political speech, this would be a very different world. We should all, regardless of our political persuasion, be encouraging a wide ranging debate about our political future. And we all need to hear more from those with whom we disagree.

I am also hopeful that those typically on the other side of the many debates that we have had about copyright will recognize this proposal as one that strengthens copyright. The last thing a copyright system designed to produce incentives for authors and artists needs is to complicate judgments about “fair use” by accommodating speech that needs no real copyright protection at all. There is incentive enough for politicians to debate, and opportunity enough for broadcasters to carry those debates. We don’t need to add the complexity of a lawyer driven speech regulation into this mix.

Thanks to everyone who signed and helped to get others to sign. Please call the RNC/DNC to add your view. The letters are below. There is a press release here.





Sen. Mel Martinez, General Chairman
Hon. Mike Duncan, Chairman
Republican National Committee
310 First Street, SE
Washington, DC 20003
(202) 863-8500

Chairmen Martinez and Duncan:

We are writing to request that the Republican National Committee help usher in the next stage of the Internet revolution that has made democracy more accessible to regular people and made politicians more accountable to their constituents.

In this letter, top technologists, grassroots organizations, bloggers, and others are asking the RNC to ensure that all video footage from Republican debates is able to be shared, re-used, and freely blogged about without the uploader of the video being deemed a lawbreaker.

In 1996, presidential candidates communicated on websites for the first time. In 2000, presidential candidates accepted online contributions for the first time. 2004 ushered in a new type of Internet-based people-powered activism.

In 2008, we need to ensure that the promise of online video is not inhibited. In the past, television stations that broadcast presidential debates have retained exclusive rights to debate footage after the event was over. By and large, such contract terms were not noticed by voters, activists, or news junkies – there was no widespread forum for regular people to share video content even if they wanted to.

But in the age of online video sharing, corporations retaining exclusive rights to debate footage is an obvious barrier to democratic participation. No concerned voter should ever be labeled a lawbreaker for wanting to share video of a presidential debate with others.

We, the undersigned, request that the Republican National Committee publicly urge state parties and other Republican debate sponsors to specify in debate contracts that video footage will be put into the public domain or licensed under a Creative Commons (Attribution) license – so that after the debate, the video will be free for anyone to access, edit, and share with others with proper attribution.

We ask you to follow the lead of C-SPAN, which this year announced they would allow expanded use of their video content by others – paving the way for a more informed electorate through online video sharing.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss details, we’d be happy to make time for that discussion.

Sincerely,

Lawrence Lessig – Professor, Stanford Law School & Founder, Center for Internet and Society

Craig Newmark – Founder of Craigslist

Jimmy Wales – Founder of Wikipedia

Brad Smith – Former FEC Chair, and current Chair of the Center for Competitive Politics

Michael Turk – Former eCampaign Director, Republican National Committee

Michelle Malkin – Conservative columnist and blogger, and founder of michellemalkin.com and hotair.com

Mike Krempasky – Co-founder of RedState.com

John Hawkins – Right Wing News

Robert Bluey – Bluey Media

David All – TechPresident and founder of The David All Group

Liz Mair – GOP Progress blog

Patrick Ruffini – 2005-2006 RNC eCampaign Director and blogger at PatrickRuffini.com

Matt Margolis – GOP Bloggers and founder of Blogs for Bush

Glenn Reynolds – Professor, University of Tennessee Law, and founder of Instapundit.com blog

Dr. William Greene – President, RightMarch.com

Shari Steele, Executive Director, Electronic Frontier Foundation

Fred von Lohmann – Senior Staff Attorney, Electronic Frontier Foundation (Intellectual Property issues)

Tim Wu – Professor, Columbia Law School & Founder of Columbia’s Program on Law & Technology

Cory Doctorow – Annenberg Center for Public Diplomacy, University of Southern California (post)

Paul Rieckhoff – Executive Director, Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA)

Wade Henderson – President and CEO, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights

Kim Gandy – President, National Organization for Women

Andy Stern – International President, SEIU

Karen Ackerman – Political Director, AFL-CIO (post)

Micah Sifry – Personal Democracy Forum and TechPresident.com

Arianna Huffington – Huffington Post

David Moore – Executive Director, Participatory Politics Foundation and OpenCongress.org

Josh Silver – Executive Director, Free Press

Carol Jenkins – President, The Women’s Media Center

Carl Malamud – Founder of Public.Resource.Org

Roger Hickey – Co-director, Campaign for America’s Future

John Schwartz – Founder of Free Speech TV, and FreeSpeech.org

Paul Jay – CEO, Independent World Television and TheRealNews.com

Helen De Michiel — Co-Director, National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture

Nicholas Reville – Co-Founder, Participatory Culture Foundation

Lark Corbeil – Founder & Managing Editor, Public News Service

David Michaelis – Director of Current Affairs, Link TV

Linda Jue – Executive Director, New Voices in Independent Journalism


Chairman Howard Dean
Democratic National Committee
430 S. Capitol St. SE
Washington, DC 20003
(202) 863-8000

Chairman Dean:

We are writing to request that the Democratic National Committee help usher in the next stage of the Internet revolution that has made democracy more accessible to regular people and made politicians more accountable to their constituents.

In this letter, top technologists, progressive grassroots organizations, bloggers, and others are asking the DNC to ensure that all video footage from Democratic debates is able to be shared, re-used, and freely blogged about without the uploader of the video being deemed a lawbreaker.

In 1996, presidential candidates communicated on websites for the first time. In 2000, presidential candidates accepted online contributions for the first time. In 2004, your campaign helped usher in a new type of Internet-based people-powered activism.

In 2008, we need to ensure that the promise of online video is not inhibited. In the past, television stations that broadcast presidential debates have retained exclusive rights to debate footage after the event was over. By and large, such contract terms were not noticed by voters, activists, or news junkies – there was no widespread forum for regular people to share video content even if they wanted to.

But in the age of online video sharing, corporations retaining exclusive rights to debate footage is an obvious barrier to democratic participation. No concerned voter should ever be labeled a lawbreaker for wanting to share video of a presidential debate with others.

The Democratic National Committee recently announced it would sanction six official presidential debates. We, the undersigned, request that no debate get the official sanction of the DNC unless contract terms specify that video footage will be put into the public domain or licensed under a Creative Commons (Attribution) license – so that after the debate, the video will be free for anyone to access, edit, and share with others with proper attribution.

We ask you to follow the lead of C-SPAN, which this year announced they would allow expanded use of their video content by others – paving the way for a more informed electorate through online video sharing.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss details, we’d be happy to make time for that discussion.

Sincerely,

Lawrence Lessig – Professor, Stanford Law School & Founder, Center for Internet and Society

Craig Newmark – Founder of Craigslist

Jimmy Wales – Founder of Wikipedia

Brad Smith – Former FEC Chair, and current Chair of the Center for Competitive Politics

Wade Henderson – President and CEO, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights

Paul Rieckhoff – Executive Director, Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA)

Kim Gandy – President, National Organization for Women

Andy Stern – International President, SEIU

Karen Ackerman – Political Director, AFL-CIO (post)

Eli Pariser – Executive Director, MoveOn.org Civic Action

James Rucker – Executive Director, ColorOfChange.org

Markos Moulitsas – Founder of DailyKos.com

Arianna Huffington – Founder of the Huffington Post

David Halperin – Director, Campus Progress & Senior Vice President, Center for American Progress

Alexandra Acker – Executive Director, Young Democrats of America

Roger Hickey – Co-director, Campaign for America’s Future

Josh Silver – Executive Director, Free Press

Carol Jenkins – President, The Women’s Media Center

Shari Steele, Executive Director, Electronic Frontier Foundation

Fred von Lohmann – Senior Staff Attorney, Electronic Frontier Foundation (Intellectual Property issues)

Tim Wu – Professor, Columbia Law School & Founder of Columbia’s Program on Law & Technology

Cory Doctorow – Annenberg Center for Public Diplomacy, University of Southern California

Micah Sifry – Personal Democracy Forum and TechPresident.com

David Moore – Executive Director, Participatory Politics Foundation and OpenCongress.org

Spencer Overton – Professor, GW Law & Founder of Blackprof.com blog

Robert Greenwald – Director, BraveNewFilms

Dan Manatt – Founder of PoliticsTV.com

Duncan Black – Founder of Atrios

Jane Hamsher – Founder of FireDogLake.com

Christy Hardin Smith – Front-page blogger, FireDogLake.com

Matt Stoller – Front-page blogger, MyDD.com

Chris Bowers – Front-page blogger, MyDD.com

David Waldman – Front-page blogger, DailyKos.com

Christopher M. Rabb – Founder and Chief Evangelist, Afro-Netizen

John Amato – Founder of Crooksandliars.com

John Aravosis – Founder of AMERICAblog.com

Don Hazen – Executive Editor, Alternet.org

Lowell Feld – Founder of RaisingKaine.com & former Netroots Coordinator, Webb for Senate (Virginia blog)

Juan Melli – Founder of BlueJersey.com (New Jersey blog)

Mark Nickolas – Publisher, BluegrassReport.org (Kentucky blog)

David Kravitz – Co-founder, BlueMassGroup.com (Massachusetts blog) (post)

Matt Singer – Founder of LeftInTheWest.com & former blogger for Tester for Senate (Montana blog)

Hugh Jackson – Founder of LasVegasGleaner.com (Nevada blog)

Myrna Minx – Founder of RenoDiscontent.com (Nevada blog)

Adam Green – Civic Communications Director, MoveOn.org Civic Action

Jane Fleming Kleeb – Executive Director, Young Voter PAC

Mike Lux – American Family Voices

Nicholas Reville – Co-Founder, Participatory Culture Foundation

Carl Malamud – Founder of Public.Resource.Org

Roz Lemieux – Executive Director, New Organizing Institute

Michael Silberman – Co-Founder and Director, EchoDitto

John Schwartz – Founder of Free Speech TV and freespeech.org

Paul Jay – CEO, Independent World Television and TheRealNews.com

Julie Bergman Sender – Filmmaker, Balcony Films

Garlin Gilchrist II – Blogger, TheSuperSpade.com (post)

Helen De Michiel — Co-Director, National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture

Jay Harris – President & Publisher, Mother Jones

Bruce Dixon – Black Agenda Report

Jill Tubman – Publisher, JackAndJill.com politics blog

Frank Emspak – Executive Producer, Workers Independent News

Lark Corbeil – Founder & Managing Editor, Public News Service

Tracy Van Slyke – Publisher, In These Times

Joel Bleifuss – Editor, In These Times

Roberto Lovato – New America Media

David Michaelis – Director of Current Affairs, Link TV

Ty West – Senior Producer, NOW on PBS

Marc Favreau – Editorial Director, The New Press

Ina Howard – Communications Director, The New Press

Linda Jue – Executive Director, New Voices in Independent Journalism

Rinku Sen – Publisher, Colorlines magazine

Siva Vaidhyanathan – New York University, and blogger

Dan Gillmor, Director, Center for Citizen Media

  • Jacob

    power to the people

  • Phil Humphrey

    Free speech.

  • Melvin R. Welch

    I support this petition as well.

    Melvin R. Welch
    3L
    University of Minnesota Law School

  • jim holland

    i am a conservative and i support president bush and the war!

    jim holland

  • http://www.johotheblog.com David Weinberger

    Our democracy will be made just a little better if we’re allowed to absorb and reuse what our candidates say in the debates. And it’ll be just a little worse if we are not. That’s why I enthusiastically support these petitions.

    David Weinberger
    Fellow, Harvard Berkman Center for Internet & Society

  • Mike Moran

    I support this petition.

  • Boyd Kneeland

    Political debates are done for the people, let’s let the people have them.

  • Andrew Wheeler

    I support this petition.

  • Rodney A Stanton

    Good luck!

  • Don Hesprich

    This has my full support….

  • greyNOTgray

    Three petitions I’ve seen in the passed days: get Joe Lieberman to swictch parties, Get the Army to revoke Jessica Lynch’s Bronze Star…, and now this!?!

    Of which the number of signatures collected remains unimportant. All the networks already have agreements to share. FoxNews pays licencing fees to al Jajeera already for borrowed footage. The upcoming debates will be available in the c-span archive, and everybody will have access. Not to mention the clips that’ll make their way to YouTube, all under the “Fair Use” license.

    Your’re putting way too much effort into making a problem go away, when the problem simply doesn’t exist.

  • http://viralroots.blogspot.com Block

    I really like what you’re doing! Clearly, YouTube is revolutionizing the way we interact with candidates, formulate opinions and spread information. All in front of a shockingly large and interested constituency. Your work is vastly important. Thanks!
    -Viralroots

  • http://lonewacko.com/ TLB

    The length of the segments required to make a video commenting on a specific answer would almost assuredly be covered under fair use, so I don’t see an issue here either.

    Lessig’s name and time would be better spent encouraging uncomfortable debate questions, particularly about negligently covered issues such as ImmigrationMatters. I don’t think Lessig would find as many signatories for such a petition, particularly since some of the names on both petitions above would oppose asking questions about topics that would reveal their side to be extremely lacking.

  • Daniel Freiman

    I can’t speak to the argument that networks already give up debate footage to the public domain, but people arguing that it is fair use are missing one crucial point. Just because something is legal doesn’t mean the behavior will go unimpeded. Sending a DMCA notice will most likely get any material, even material used under fair use, taken down for a time. Additionally, the threat of a lawsuit from a large corporation can be very intimidating even if they don’t have a case causing some individuals to relent. Just look at SLAPP suits or the RIAA litigation. Fair use is a legal defense, not a method to effectively protect your immediate right to free speech. It may be true that once the video is out there, it really can’t be completely taken down, but the point is to preemptively protect uninhibited political speech, not rely on the fact that partially inhibited speech will survive. I don’t see a letter being too much effort for this goal.

  • Bruce Long

    Sharing/freeing political speech would be a wonderful way to help Americans be more involved in the important politics of these times.

  • lessig

    Nicely put, Mr. Freiman.

  • L. Steven Beene II

    A free and open debate that explores the issues is vital for the continuation of our republic.

  • OBQuiet

    While I agree, I think, with the intent of these letters, I do have some concerns. Allowing unrestricted editing may well allow footage of the debates to be used to create wholly inaccurate presentations of the candidates positions.

    Its bad enough that we are subjected to a barrage of media sound bytes, must we allow the selective editing of what should be complex communication? Just snip out a word here and there and instant message change.

  • David desJardins

    I don’t believe this “strengthens copyright”, at all. What would strengthen copyright is to use and protect our free speech rights, including fair use. Asking for permission for something that should require no permission is not even helpful.

  • http://lonewacko.com/ TLB

    Fine. Now that that petition is out of the way, how about a petition demanding that those running debates feature tough, non-puffball, non-smear, specific questions about statements and actions?

    For instance, I cover immigration matters quite closely, and “reporters” consistently allow politicians to lie about that topic rather than challenging their statements. And, during the 2004 debates there was just *one* question about immigration, which was answered with Bush’s/Kerry’s stock talking points.

    The much bigger threat to our political system is that there are some topics where “reporters” and almost all politicians are aligned, no matter what the rest of the country thinks.

  • Matthew Rimmer

    The prodigious copyright lobbyist, Jack Valenti, has died:
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200704/s1908451.htm

  • MICHAEL CASSARO

    THE CONCEPT OF PLACING ON YOU-TUBE THE MEANINGFUL COMMENTS ON SIGNIFICANT TOPICS MADE BY CANDIDATES FOR PRESIDENT IS HIGHLY INFORMATIVE AND BENEFITIAL IN HELPING TO LEARN ABOUT CANDIDATES. THE USE OF TRADITIONAL TV AND NEWS MEDIA TO GAIN INFORMATION ABOUT CANDIDATES IS INADEQUATE.

  • Laula Fritz

    to post the debates on YouTube is a fantastic idea. I don’t have a TV and I missed watching the debates yesterday, so I thought actually I might check out YouTube, maybe I can find them there . . . so I am thrilled, please make this possible. It is so important, that everyone has access to these kind of informations.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    An an excellent idea. I support it.

  • http://www.vaspersthegrate.blogspot.com vaspers the grate

    I agree with you totally.

    this is why we must destroy the MSM now.

    I twittered the Jeff Jarvis post on this topic. Put my name down as supporting this issue:

    steven e. streight aka vaspers the grate
    Peoria, IL web usability analyst
    http://www.vaspersthegrate.blogspot.com

  • Pamela Johnston

    I totally support this issue. We need to have more PUBLIC in the PUBLIC DOMAIN – not just mega-corporations hogging the airwaves, and not allowing PUBLIC discourse on these all-important issues. POWER TO THE PEOPLE!

  • Victoria

    Unfortunately, I missed the debates on TV, and so far all I Have been able to hear are the sound bites, hence I would really like to be able to hear the entire debate in full.

  • http://gravelkucinichpaulnader.blogspot.com/ gravel kucinich paul nader

    HDNet Dec 1 DNC debate (Sat 7:30pm ET)
    - all eight -

    gravel kucinich paul nader

  • http://www.seconnecticut.com/ Geroge Penman

    We have been foolish to allow so much privatization.

    Privatized Vote counting by partisans results in rigged elections. http://www.seconnecticut.com/elections.htm
    voting machiines need to be open source and standardized.

    Corporate media has resulted in advertising spam, trivia, distraction, silly news, and a dysfunctional political process. Right wing hate speech has brought us endless war, a new arms race, and a move toward nuclear weapons. http://www.seconnecticut.com/media.htm

    Republicans are a curse on the US.
    http://www.seconnecticut.com/explanation.htm